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“We’ve been favourably surprised by the summer and the fall, and now we have COP15 coming up,” Tourism Montreal president Yves Lalumière said.

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A bigger-than-expected rebound in leisure travellers will help Montreal inch closer to pre-pandemic visitor levels in 2022 even as business travel lags, the city’s top tourism executive said.

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Quebec’s largest city is on pace to attract as many as 8.5 million out-of-town visitors this year, Tourism Montreal president Yves Lalumière said Monday. As recently as May, his organization had been expecting a maximum of 7.5 million, up from a March forecast of 6.5 million.

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After a busy summer season, tourism-related spending in Montreal rose 6 per cent in October compared with the same month in 2019, Lalumière said — well ahead of an internal forecast that called for a drop of 15 per cent. Next month’s United Nations Biodiversity Conference, the event known as COP15 that is expected to draw 10,000 delegates, should further boost tourism-related revenue.

“We’ve been favourably surprised by the summer and the fall, and now we have COP15 coming up,” Lalumière said in an interview. “This summer we had a lot of people visiting from Ontario, France and the U.S., and we surpassed our expectations. The visitor economy really saved our summer. Don’t forget that for the first three months of the year, everything was shut.”

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Montreal drew a record 11 million visitors in 2019, the last full year before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Tourism Montreal is currently forecasting 9.5 million visitors for 2023, the city could exceed that number if travel regulations remain unchanged, Lalumière said.

“We think we can come very close to 2019 levels next year,” he said. “This winter we’re investing a lot in promotion in the leisure market.”

The recent pickup in leisure demand has helped to offset a disappointing showing in business travel, which has been much slower to emerge from a pandemic-induced slump. Business travellers will probably account for about 310,000 hotel nights in Montreal this year, down from about 400,000 in 2019, Lalumière said.

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“For individual business travel, we’re still about two years away from hitting our 2019 level,” Lalumière said. “Small businesses have resumed travelling, but large companies are being much more cautious, especially in Canada.”

Before the pandemic, business travel accounted for about 25 per cent of visits to the city, and 32 per cent of tourism-related spending, Tourism Montreal data show.

To bolster tourism revenue, Montreal can also count on several major international conventions. Major events planned for 2023 include the World Irish Dancing Championships in April, with an expected attendance of 26,000; the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum, with 5,000 participants; and the International Council of Nurses’ annual conference, which is expected to draw 6,000 people in July.

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In the meantime, Lalumière acknowledges Montrealers who work downtown will need to be patient as security around the Palais des congrès is tightened to coincide with COP15. The event is scheduled to take place Dec. 7-19.

A security perimeter protected by a fence is being set up around the Palais des congrès, an area bounded by St-Urbain St., St-Antoine St., Viger Ave. and Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle. What’s more, the Place-d’Armes métro station will be closed between Dec. 1 and 20, while access to the convention hall from the underground city is closed.

“COP15 is a great showpiece for Montreal, but security is demanding,” Lalumière said. “Obviously, the area will need to be secured, which will have an impact on business activity. On the other hand, we think increased visitor spending will compensate for that. The big question is, when will the barriers come down?”

ftomesco@postmedia.com

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    Leisure travel helping Montreal tourism industry shake off pandemic losses

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